Interview with Terry Gosden at the General Workers' Union (GWU) 12-10-10 I met Terry Gosden in his office at the GWU on South Street in Valletta. Gosden ran the Marsa Open Centre from its opening in 2005 until 2008 and was now the GWU's “Third Country National Specialist” where he advocated for migrant worker rights. He came to Malta from the UK about 13 years ago and is about to move back to the UK for a new position there. He was friendly and straightforward, and was not shy about expressing his opinions on the migrant situation in Malta.
He does not in principal believe in Open Centres and believes they are, in their current form, a hinderance to social integration and economic independence for migrants. He thinks, as do others with an interest in migrant rights in Malta, that they would be better off being rehoused in the many vacant homes and apartments around the island.
He told me about the troubled beginnings of the MOC, such as the time when they had to construct the second branch of the outflow canal. The canal had flooded due to heavy rains and put the Centre under a metre of sewage. Gosden said that during the excavation work for the canal, workers had discovered “silver sand” and Roman artifacts that were now preserved under a layer of concrete. The stone ruin that was now visible under one of the current bridges over the canal was in fact Roman, according to Gosden.
He mentioned many of the concerns I had about the pollution of the site and the health dangers that the buildings still posed. They were full of asbestos and other contaminants and when he had been running the place, burning of waste at the abattoir regularly polluted the air. The fumes from the canal were so bad that he often resorted to drastic measures. At one point he dumped litres of bleach into it (not, I should think, the best of solutions but what do I know?) and then had to evacuate the premises for a day due to fumes from the chemical. He spoke of 3 different species of rats, of an electrician who encountered specimen the size of a cat in the walls of one building and others that burrowed in the yard.
He said that the buildings were never prepared for the heavy and continued use that they received. The rebar in the concrete of the main residential building was rusting and failing due to infiltration of water from hastily installed and over-burdened plumbing.
There were some definite successes in his tenure at the MOC, however. He planted trees (now, sadly, looking mostly dead) on the peninsula that was created when the canal was split. He allowed for the opening of the restaurants and shops that now thrived at the centre. He said that African migrants were particularly skilled at starting small trading businesses such as the ones that were already at the MOC selling mobile phones, watches, and similar items. He thought that therefore one of the great potentials of the Centre would be for it to become an incubator for micro-businesses and encourage this kind of entrepreneurship. He had tried to maintain the “openness” of the MOC. Gosden was concerned that it was now becoming too closed and too controlled with the security measures the new administration were implementing and the tighter restrictions on – even shutting down of – businesses.
Gosden is not of the opinion that there should be too many government initiatives aimed at managing integration better. “To my knowledge, managed integration is only effective up to a point. Forty years ago, I saw how London handled its integration process, and tremendous mistakes were made. There were racist murders and extreme difficulties were placed on third country nationals. The real integration in the UK took place on a peer-to-peer, company-to-company level, by means of education. There was a gradual shift from the rejectionist thinking of the indigenous population, to an acceptance of change and a better understanding of the wider issues affecting the world, both historically and politically.”
Darmanin, D. “GWU's Godsend.” Malta Today. 29 March 2009. Accessed on 23 October 2010
Additional articles featuring Gosden: